WAGENINGEN, THE NETHERLANDS — Free licenses for five plant genetic technology patents will be issued to potential partners of a Netherlands research university in an effort to increase crop resistance to drought and disease.

Globally, there are more than 3,000 patents related to CRISPR-Cas technology, which was designed to increase the accuracy, efficiency and simplicity of modifying genetic material.   Wageningen University and Research of Wageningen, The Netherlands, holds several of those patents, including five patents jointly owned with the Dutch Research Council NOW. The university on Sept. 6 said licenses for those five patents will be provided free to potential partners working on plant genetics for non-profit applications.

“We hope this contributes to healthier, more sustainable, equitable, affordable and resilient food production for all,” said Louise O. Fresco, PhD, president of the university. “This is really quite unique for CRISPR, in the academic world and beyond. As far as we know, we’re among the first to do so regarding CRISPR technology. We do it, because we simply and firmly believe this is the right thing to do.”

Fresco said CRISPR technology and other biosciences could accelerate a shift into more sustainable, affordable and resilient food systems that could drastically reduce hunger and malnutrition. About two billion people globally faced inadequate nutrition last year, a topic central to the UN Food Systems Summit on Sept. 23 during the UN General Assembly in New York.

CRISPR technology employs a bacterial defense system against viruses. John van der Oost, PhD, a WUR microbiologist, is considered one of the founding fathers of CRISPR technology after working with it since 2006.

“The potential of CRISPR-Cas cannot be overstated,” van der Oost said. “It is a very versatile technology that could provide new and sustainable ways to feed earth’s growing population. We happily share our knowledge to that end and hope more patent holders will consider doing the same.”

Fresco said the promise of an idea exchange with partners that could increase global food security led WUR to license the patents for free.

“The full potential of this technology can only be achieved through long-term partnerships and capacity building,” she said. “We would like to learn from our future CRISPR partners as well and build upon their knowledge in return. Together, we could change the way we deal with food security around the world. This is why we are confident about giving away this knowledge, in the spirit of the Open Science movement: to make publicly available what has been funded with public money.”